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Innovators Should Solve a Social Problem as well as Create a Profitable Business: SquatEase’s Satyajit Mittal

Satyajit Mittal’s innovative redesign of the conventional squat pan seems to have solved many problems at a stroke. It has forced users to sit in the right direction, thus preventing a mess; reduced consumption of water; and significantly eased the stress on knees and feet that users undergo while doing their business. Appropriately named SquatEase, the squat pan has drawn appreciation from PM Modi himself, besides winning a host of international design awards including the recent Good Design Award 2019.

Mittal spoke to Sourcing Hardware about how the industry was receiving SquatEase, and what should entrepreneurs do to participate in the fast-growing sanitation economy.

How has the response been to your innovation SquatEase? Where all has it been used after the Kumbh Mela 2019?
The response has been very encouraging in the limited geography that we are operating after the launch in Kumbh Mela 2019. The impact in terms of brand building and discovery has been tremendous in our online and direct-to-home endeavours.

In view of the potential available for this product category, the future holds a lot of promise – about 250 million existing conventional squat pans in India are waiting for upgradation, besides an estimated 30-35 million new installations which are likely to come up every year.

Our assessment is that this innovative smart pan – SquatEase – has the potential to redefine and reinvent this product category and deliver large volumes. This smart pan is going to be the panacea for the large habitually squatting population in India, and similar markets worldwide.

Also Read: Sanitation is More Profitable than Curative Healthcare: Jack Sim

How has your engagement with the sanitaryware industry been? Have you entered into any alliances?
We had the opportunity to interact with many retailers, and they believe that the product has the potential to repeat the success story of, say, the feature phone over the smartphone or the conventional bulb over the LED.

This change in the squat pan category is being conveyed through creating experiential display units at select retail outlets. The idea is to make the user experience the benefits of the product by actually squatting on it.

A few prominent brands have shown a lot of confidence in the product and have placed the product in their select network for test marketing.

Also Read: Water Conservation is in our DNA: Sloan India’s Anup Tripathi

Are you marketing SquatEase directly as well, under your brand? What kind of a network have you developed?
The prime idea is to take this innovation to the masses and make a difference in their lives across the world. With this in mind, our strategy has been to reach out to people in a select market to begin with, both online and offline.

The SquatEase brand promise revolves around behavioural change, comfort, health and wellness, and sense of aspiration.  Thus far, the results have been excellent, and we have plans to scale this up with collaborations.

Also Read: Sanitation is the New Growth Engine

How has the SquatEase range expanded, with more products and variations?
The SquatEase range currently has two size variants – 20-inch and 23-inch. The products are available in two colour variants, white and ivory.

We are in the process of developing many more design variants following the SquatEase concept, i.e. the ‘high heel’ inclined footrest. The future series will have premium forms and designs, including a variety of colours, materials and finishes. We are looking at various design philosophies which can lead to a modern look and feel, and minimalistic and contemporary styles.  A lot of our users are decidedly modern while still being connected to their roots. We would like to embrace that notion and celebrate it through our design language.

Also Read: The Toilet Business

What innovations do you think need to be made to toilet infrastructure, to speed up the use and maintenance of toilets across the country?
The launch of Swachh Bharat Mission, as we all know, has given a big boost to the toilet infrastructure. It has helped the industry penetrate new markets and connect with first-time dedicated toilet users.

As about 100 million new toilets have been made in India in the last five years, I think now the focus of innovation in this space has to be on user experience inside the toilet and the support infrastructure outside the toilet.

If a product or space creates a good experience for the user, she gets accustomed to using it more and more. This would mean innovation in comfortable toilet seats and pans, bathroom fixtures and fittings, cleaning products, water-saving taps, flush systems and urinals, fragrance products etc.

Even concepts which make toilets more accessible in public and remote settings like ‘ring a loo’ or ‘hail a toilet cab’ can be exciting. Now even Google maps can help you find a toilet near you.  Building on this concept further, one can have toilet-sharing apps where a list of public toilets in hotels and restaurants, and maybe even some private houses, can be curated for emergency use to avoid soiling of sidewalks and parks.

Also Read: How Toilet Board Coalition is Making Sanitation Business Aspirational in Pune

How can entrepreneurs and innovators be encouraged to participate in the ‘smart sanitation economy’?
In my opinion, entrepreneurs and innovators should see the smart sanitation economy as both, solving a major social problem as well as creating a profitable business. This would encourage them to be more efficient and self-sustainable. This requires them to understand the boom in this sector and its growth potential over the years to come.

Also, the kind of support which has been extended to this sector year on year by large organisations, NGOs and government towards innovation has been tremendous. For e.g. ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ by the Gates Foundation has pledged more than $200 million towards creating innovations in this field. Interventions like these have given a boost to innovators and first-time entrepreneurs like me, to start a business in this field.

Also Read: How Lixil is Taking Leadership Position in the Sanitation Economy

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